San Blas, an archipelago of nearly 400 islands, runs along the Caribbean coast of Panama, and is the first port of call for the World ARC 2010-11 yachts after their start from St Lucia.
The islands are home to the Kuna people, who run San Blás as a comarca (autonomous region) with minimal interference from the Panamanian government: as a community, they have one of the greatest degrees of political autonomy of any indigenous group in Latin America.
The Kuna like to say that their archipelago consists of ‘one island for every day of the year.’ In fact, there are nearly 400 islands in the chain, all small creations of sand and palms with the turquoise Caribbean lapping at their shores. About 36 of the islands are inhabited by Kuna communities, and additional communities are located on the mainland coast.
While the majority of the islands are iconic magazine-cover images, the Kuna choose to inhabit no more than a handful of acre-sized cays, which are packed with bamboo huts and people. Although outsiders often wonder why the Kuna choose to live in such crowded conditions, this is a testament to the incredible sense of community and identity that has allowed the Kuna to achieve their remarkable degree of independence
The chief of all the islands lives on an island called Acuadup, meaning rock island. The Kuna are hunters and fishers, and make zealous efforts to preserve a traditional way of life, and still maintain their own language, although most of the men now also speak Spanish, the national language of Panama.